Michigan Gov. Signs Law Ending Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences

Michigan Governor John Engler has signed the bill approved by the state legislature that eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. The bill is effective March 1 and will apply to those already in prison.

Under the new law, Judges can use sentencing guidelines to impose sentences based on a range of factors in each case, rather than solely drug weight. The bill also replaces the lifetime probation requirement for the lowest-level offenders with a five-year term of probation. The board will have the discretion to grant early to some inmates.

The passage of this bill was years in the making. Major kudos are due FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums). Laura Sagar, FAMM's executive director had this to say:
"Harsh mandatory minimums, originally intended to target drug "king pins" warehoused many nonviolent, low-level drug offenders at a very high cost to taxpayers. Now judges can use their discretion under sentencing guidelines to more closely fit the punishment to the crime and the offender."

"This change is being closely examined by states across the country as they grapple with the unintended consequences of their own mandatory minimum sentences."

"This historic act is also a victory for a grassroots movement for justice. "It is the culmination of years of grassroots lobbying efforts by thousands of FAMM members affected by mandatory minimums that were among the harshest in the nation. These families brought the human face of sentencing injustices to lawmakers and convinced member of both parties that change was urgently needed."

The bill was a bipartisan measure supported by groups such as the "Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, the Michigan Judges Association, the Michigan Association of Drug Court Professionals, the Michigan Catholic Conference, Michigan's Children, and the NAACP (Detroit Branch), among many others."

Why did the prosecutors go along? David Morse, President of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, said:
Michigan's prosecutors recognize that an effective drug policy is a combination of criminal justice strategies, readily available drug treatment programs, incarceration where appropriate, and prevention activities in schools, businesses, and homes. That is why we support a responsible approach to replacing the mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes with sentences that are appropriate for the crime."

Former Michigan Republican Governor William G. Milliken has said his signing mandatory minimum drug sentences into law in 1978 was "the worst mistake of my career" and campaigned for their repeal.

This is FAMM's second win in Michigan. In 1998 they led the drive to repeal a law that mandated life without for anyone convicted of delivery or conspiracy to deliver 650 grams or more of heroin or cocaine.

FAMM's analysis of the new drug sentencing laws is here.

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